Conflicted Vibes: Friends

The Internet’s ability to make borders go poof and bring us all a little bit closer has been a great boon to music. I doubt I need to lay out the countless success stories…or the ones emerging every single day…to convince you the web has allowed countless artists seemingly doomed to nothingness to transcend and become…well, mostly buzzed about blog bands, but still. One result of this opened up field, though, is the terrible realization tons of these groups sound exactly the same. Call it The Office syndrome…once one great new idea hits the jackpot, the mobs of imitators flood in and we end up with Outsourced. And so…spend an hour surfing the blogosphere and see how many “chilled-out” or “lo-fi” artists fill up the frame, and how many of their songs leave any impression beyond their playing time. Anyone can make a splash in the online music world…but how many artists bypass the actual artistic process in order to paw at new trends that might land them a spot underneath a grainy Polaroid?

Kobe-Osaka project Friends seems tailor-made for this era of overwhelming choice. The group’s image alone instantly makes the job of classifying them simple – grainy photos of people soaking up the sun on some beach meant to make us feel nostalgic for…something. The music follows right in line, Friends playing surf-soaked guitar pop with the recording settings set to “maximum shit,” meaning lots of barely audible vocals creeping beneath a lot of static. I’m sure a long list of artist doing a similar act jumped into your head…I’ll spare you my list…and I’m just left wondering – do we need another one of these beach-obsessed dudes? Friends also signal the continued rise in this blog-friendly sorta band emerging in Japan, which is a bit of a harder roach to smoke.

The trick with all of this…and there has to be a catch, or else I wouldn’t write about Friends just to shit on them…is the potential awesomeness lurking here. It’s tough to remember with so many artists exchanging notes that entire sub-genres shouldn’t be discounted entirely. Chill-wave makes me hesitant…but I’d be a big ol’ online liar if I didn’t admit to really liking A LOT of these glo-fied artists. Gotta remember, especially when dealing with an online culture that revels in blanket statements, every artist should be taken into consideration via their music and only THEIR music. So yeah, I’m down on a lot of this terribly recorded “rawk” coming out of Japan but I also love Puffyshoes and Hotel Mexico who do just that but make it not seem like a copy of a Hipstamatic picture. And so…back to Friends. I think the noise and obscured vocals only get in the way of this outfit’s music – whereas, say, Puffyshoes makes feedback an essential element of their songs, it seems to only distract from Friends’ best skill. Which is writing kick-ass surf pop. Just check the above song’s sun-dappled bop, an irresistible creation doing an excellent Phil Spector imitation. Or, better yet, listen to “I’ll Be Gone” which boasts a great melody and a genuine sense of longing. Buried beneath the poor recording is something beautiful.

For now I’m putting Friends on the fence. They strike me as one of the few shit-gazey groups out their that are a better sounding recording away from being special, way more interesting than “the next Best Coast.” I also think they stand as an excellent example of a very negative side of the Internet – thanks to the “I’m only a blog post away from Internet hipster fame” allure of online music blogs, a band like Friends probably feel less inclined to polish these songs, spend time with them and perfect them. If they did that, they could miss out on the current wave of beach lovers striking RSS feeds around the world. Fingers crossed they don’t end up an afterthought.

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